Well folks, here we are, just two days away from the biggest game the 49ers have played since the 1990's, and the weather in the Bay Area is getting worse, which in my mind, favors the 49ers even more. We'll also talk a little bit about, quite possibly the next 49ers opponent, as we break down the AFC Championship as well.
NFC Championship Preview
As good as the Giants defense is, and Eli Manning can be, if it's raining at the Stick on Sunday, which is looking probable, then the meter definitely tilts towards favoring the 49ers. They have a better defense, especially up front, to stop a running game should it get into a smash-mouth type of wet and muddy ballgame. They also have the rushing attack, not only with Gore and Hunter, but as he showed last week, even Alex Smith can tuck it and run. I'd like to see at least 5 designed runs for Alex Smith as well as Harbough giving him free reign to tuck-and-run every single time he sees a seem and can't find an open receiver. For my money, I take the Gore/Hunter/Smith combo as far as ball carrying, over the Bradshaw, Jacobs and Manning. Eli, while he can pick the 49ers secondary apart if given ample time, is not a mobile QB and if the 49ers pressure him, he's prone to making mistakes. He throws for a lot of yards, he gets his TD's but he throws for a lot of interceptions too, and the 49ers need to be on their game as far as the takeaways. They every time they see an opportunity to knock a ball loose or go for a pick, take it. That's what got them to the NFC championship and that's what will keep them moving forward. At the same time, the toughest part of the New York Giants defense is their pass-rush. If they get Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul all going, and aren't able to protect Alex Smith, then it's going to be very tough for the 49ers to develop any kind of passing game. The way to beat blitzers and pass-rushers is to run right at em or do screen passes right over them and the 49ers need to have a contingency plan for every time Alex drops back to pass.
As long as the 49ers can control the Giants pass rush, and the 49ers do what they've done so well this season, win the turnover battle, I think they'll be extremely tough for the Giants to handle. They need someone else to step up though like Vernon did vs. the Saints and I'm looking to Frank Gore to be that guy (he got hurt early vs. the Giants in November and hasn't had a 100-yard game since). The 49ers crowd will be so loud, louder than Green Bay's fans were able to get on Sunday, that's for sure, and that should make it tough for the Giants to run their no-huddle and hurry-up offense that both the Manning brothers have ran so well over the years. Home field advantage in this case, I believe makes all the difference in the world, so the 49ers need to use that to their advantage and not let their crowd get out of it for a second. That's where Green Bay lost it last week, they got down, and their crowd got out of it, and they played a bad game. I may get a moment Sunday to do a quick pre-game before the NFC Championship, but in case I don't I want to get my prediction out now. I've said over the week, and probably 2 or 3 times in this post, that as long as the 49ers play their game, win the turnover battle, protect Alex Smith and establish the run on a wet field, it'll be their game to lose. After seeing them take it to New Orleans, I don't think the Giants will be able to beat this team, I just don't. Now, if Eli get's going early, the 49ers can't pressure him, and in turn, are in Alex Smith's face every time he drops back to throw, than advantage Giants. They didn't beat Green Bay on a fluke win, they beat them in every facet of the game and when they're on, they're tough, but so are the 49ers. Either way, I think we're in for another nail-biter and a game going that comes down to the final minutes.
NFC Championship Prediction:
San Francisco 49ers 27 - New York Giants 24
AFC Championship Preview
Oh, by the way, there is another game going on this weekend, and if the 49ers do win, I'm sure every single TV in Northern California will be tuned into it. After the 49ers/Giants game, the AFC Championship figures to be a pretty darn good matchup itself. This Patriots offense is such a unique offense that can beat you with a variety of players while the Baltimore defense is really second to none in the NFL right now. New England has the receivers with Branch and Welker to cause the corners to focus there, and then they have Gronkowski and Hernandez at tight end, who pose an extremely tough matchup for any defender, linebacker, safety or corner. They're basically wide receivers in tight-end bodies, and I think it'll be tough for the Ravens to account for all the weapons. I mean, they barely pulled it out against a rookie QB in their own house last week, so it's tough to see them straightening up enough over the week to go into Foxboro and beat a Patriots team that has arguably the best offense in the football right now, certainly the AFC. The only way I see the Ravens pulling this one out is if Joe Flacco steps up and has a big game himself. Ray Rice should be able to dice through the Pats defense, but it won't matter if they get down early to the Pats, cause the game will probably rest on the arm of Flacco. And even though the Patriots defense can be exposed, they also play opportunistic football, and I could see them causing takeaways if they get after Flacco. I just see to many things needing to line up in order for the Ravens to win, and I just don't see it happening for them on the road. It should be another very good matchup though, kind of like the 49ers/Saints, a defensive powerhouse vs. a true offensive juggernaut.
New England Patriots 31 - Baltimore Ravens 23